What’s Happening to the Light-Up 9/11 Memorial?


The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is coming up in less than a month. Every year, the fallen Twin Towers have been memorialized with twin beams of light shooting up into the sky overnight; the “Tribute in Light” is organized by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and has returned annually via funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and from private donors.This year, though, could be the last time the memorial is ever lit up. A block of text on the MAS website reads, “Around the world, people assume that the Tribute in Light is a permanent annual installation. But the reality is that the future of the lights is not guaranteed beyond September 11, 2011.”

The Observer reported today that Tribute’s funding will run out this year. The memorial is quite expensive to run; Municipal Art Society president Vin Cipolla told the Voice this afternoon that it costs between $400,000 and $500,000 every year. Dozens of workers are involved in setting up the lights, then there are storage costs and rental fees, and of course, a massive energy bill (although as Cipolla pointed out, Con Edison has been a major underwriter of the project since the beginning).

NYO’s article makes it sound as though Tribute is at death’s door, but Cipolla stressed to us that that wasn’t the case. “We’ve always had to raise money for it every year,” Cipolla said. There’s never been a permanent fund, and thus never a guarantee that the necessary money will be in that year. Cipolla said that MAS is trying to “create a more appropriate fund for [Tribute in Light] to potentially make it permanent.”

So it seems as though it’s never really been a guarantee that the Tribute will appear every year. Maybe we’re simply paying more attention because this year marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and the hoopla in general is amplified; or maybe the Tribute really is in more trouble that MAS will let on. We’ll find out next year. Of course, another solution is to find a memorial that can be more permanent — and less expensive year-to-year — than a pair of enormous xenon lights, as beautiful as they may be.